Modern all too modern


"Sitney’s Visionary Film constitutes a kind of dictionary of received ideas for the avant-gardiste. It is high modernist in design, nationalist if not provincial in its outlook, sexist in its particular omissions, and ethnocentric in the formalist circumspection of its discourse. We are presented with the search for form as the telos for cinema. We are shown how all important, i.e. European, film historical roads lead in the post-war era to New York, though San Francisco is mentioned as a kind of exception which proves the rule. We are told of Carolee Schneeman only that she was an actress in a Brakhage film. We are told that Joyce Wieland was alive but not what films she made or what they might have meant. And we are told nothing about Mary Ellen Bute, Barbara Hammer, Yvonne Rainer, Barbara Rubin, Chick Strand, Germaine Dulac, Esther Shub, Gunvor Nelson or Anne Severson to name only an obvious few. St. Maya is the exception which seems to prove an implicit rule. The few persons of color admitted to the discussion must be able to “pass” formally. Homoeroticism is filtered exclusively through considerations of myth and form. 

"Visionary Film is the master logocentric narrative of a closed pantheon of form. In spite of its author’s denials of a project of totalization, it is essentially an extended explication of the post-war segment of the collection of the Anthology Film Archives. As a justification of the choices for the eternal pantheon of film form, it becomes a project to foreclose discourse and downplay difference. By obscuring difference along the margins of film practice, the institutionalization of Sitney’s views has retarded the recognition and to some extent even the creation of a cinema of resistance. Sitney, however, is not alone here. Even the deliberately Eurocentric, reverse colonialism of Le Grice’s formalist Abstract Cinema and Beyond—written to limit the damage of the onslaught of the Sitney-Mekas great American art machine—comes up short on the score of recognizing sexual and ethnic difference. But these are not simply the ethical and aesthetic limitations of particular individuals, they are the symptoms of an intellectual period style. Modernism, nationalism, sexism and ethnocentrism—while not related by pure synonymy—must finally be recognized as part of the same master lexicon to be resisted and overcome."

From Keith Sanborn, “Modern all too modern,” printed in Cinematograph: A Journal of Film and Media Art, Vol. 3, 1988